We're Enchant and we run a 24/7/365 operation providing software that companies use to communicate with their customers. Over the years, we've had our share of disruptions and outages. Today we're sharing our learnings on how to communicate during outages.

No matter how robust your infrastructure is or how well organized your operations are, outages are part of life for any business with an online presence. While you may set up all the preventive measures that you can, unfortunately, things can still go wrong.

A recent survey conducted by Uptime Institute found that 76% of the organizations had an IT service outage in the past three years. To make matters worse, it usually comes out as a bolt from the blue and you are left with no choice but to call for an urgent meeting.

The first thing that comes to your mind during an outage is its impact on your customers. More importantly, the way outages are managed can make or break the reputation of your company. A poorly handled outage situation can cause your customers to lose confidence in your brand. On the other hand, making a successful recovery from a failure can lead to even higher customer satisfaction. Research has found that 78% of customers will forgive a company for its mistake if they are treated with excellent service.

78% of customers will forgive a company for its mistake if they are treated with excellent service.

It goes without saying that your customer service team plays a crucial role in handling such incidents. Being prepared for an unforeseen event can help you and your team remain calm in such a stressful time.

So, if you’re looking for detailed guidance on effective customer communications during an outage, we’ve got you covered. We’ll also share a notification template along with a sample message that you could use for your business if ever needed.

Important factors to consider for your outage message

Whether you’re a business owner or a customer support manager, you should keep an eye on how the entire outage incident is being managed by your team and share your guidance throughout the process.

At a high level, you need to ensure that the following aspects are being accounted for:

  • Timely notification: Ensure that customers are notified of the situation before they start reaching out to your customer service team.
  • Easy-to-understand explanation: Make sure that message is conveyed in a simplified manner explaining what it means to customers.
  • Give assurance to customers: Let them know that your team is working to resolve the situation and they will be updated on the same.
  • Be transparent: Don’t be afraid of being transparent with your customers. Your honesty will help in calming the customers and winning their trust.
  • Provide frequent updates: Depending on the severity and duration of the outage, you need to ensure that the proper frequency is set for the updates.

12 Step Guide for Outage Communication

Before any of your communications goes out to customers, all your teams need to be on the same page to ensure smooth and synchronized efforts. During this stressful time, being prepared in advance can help you avoid making mistakes and take timely actions. Follow our step-by-step guide below to make sure you have everything you need to tackle the situation effectively and efficiently.

1. Analyze the severity of the outage

Knowing the severity level of the outage will help you communicate precise details to your customers. To have a clear view of the impact of the outage, you need to ask questions such as:

  • Is the outage impacting all customers or a specific segment of customers?
  • Is the entire service down or just a feature that is not working as expected?
  • What kind of timeframe would it take to resolve the underlying issue?
The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them - preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.
Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group

In case the outage is caused by a third-party company, you may seek this information from them. It would help you ensure that reasonable expectations are set with your customers. You don’t want to promise an unrealistic resolution time without doing the analysis, and then get bombarded with customer complaints when your team fails to keep that promise.

2. Share details with the customer support team

Once you’ve analyzed and identified the cause of the problem, your customer support team needs to be educated and updated about the issue. With the appropriate level of knowledge and understanding, your support team can come up with what details need to be communicated to the customers.

You should assign a dedicated person from the dev/operations team to take charge of the situation and lead the team in executing the plan of action. Receiving instructions from multiple people may lead to chaos or miscommunication. The last thing you want in such a situation would be to provide contradicting information to your customers. Microsoft reports that 30% of customers considered a friendly and knowledgeable representative as the most important aspect of a good customer service experience.

30% of customers consider a friendly and knowledgeable representative as the most important aspect of a good customer service.

3. Use customer-friendly terms

Be mindful of your customers’ level of understanding technical terms and customize your message accordingly. Your message should be simple enough for a non-technical person to comprehend, and at the same time, provide a certain level of clarity about the technical reason behind the outage if necessary. Also, make sure that the information being provided is accurate.

4. Provide alternate solutions if feasible

This is something that may require input from the dev team before implementation. Depending on the scope of the outage, it may or may not be feasible to have an alternate solution or workaround. You can do some advance preparation with your dev team to list all possible outage risk scenarios and the workarounds that can be helpful if something goes wrong.

If workarounds are available, you should communicate the same to your customers and educate your customer support team regarding the same. It can be helpful to create a canned response in your customer support help desk system guiding customers to the workaround so your team can answer queries faster.

5. Deliver the outage message to customers

You may not be able to use your standard communication tools during an outage, so it’s a smart idea to set up a status site in advance, that runs on different infrastructure than your own operations. Many services have a dedicated status site that they can refer to customers to provide the latest updates about their service status. Make sure to make the status website link accessible to customers by including it on common pages such as the “contact us” page and footer section of your website. It is also a good idea to add the link to your status page from your company’s social media profile description.

Also, you may create a dedicated Twitter account to provide updates in case of any planned or unplanned outage issues. You can simply close the Twitter thread by tweeting the latest status about the resolution once the issue is fixed.

At Enchant, we operate both a dedicated status site at status.enchant.comand also a dedicated Twitter account, i.e., @EnchantStatus.

6. Be prepared for an influx of customer queries

Despite sending a precise message, chances are a lot of customers may reach out to your support team with additional queries. Some may even come with the questions that you’ve already addressed in your initial message. The point is that you need to be ready and prepared to resolve their queries or concerns at the earliest. A survey has found that 69% of customers considered a quick resolution to their problem as a factor of a good customer service experience.

69% of customers considered a quick resolution to their problem as a factor of a good customer service experience.

You may need to look for all possible options through which you can reiterate the information. For example, set up an interactive voice response (IVR) about the outage update for your telephonic support line, and update your auto-responses for email and chat support. You can also tweet the latest update on your Twitter handle and “pin the tweet” Make sure your status page is up-to-date and accessible.

7. Show empathy, care, and apology

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and try to realize what they must be going through. This may sound cliché, but it’s one of the most essential traits to cultivate in your customer service team. According to the Global Empathy Index 2015, the most empathetic companies saw a more than double increase in value as compared to the least empathetic ones.

For showing empathy to your customers, your team members need to be active listeners and respond with genuine care and compassion.While responding to customer concerns, don’t simply go by the scripts. It’s vital to address their pain points and express a sincere apology. Here’s an example of how you can personalize your responses to a customer who’s sharing a concern:

Standard response: “We apologize for the inconvenience caused.”

Personalized response: “I understand how disappointing it must be as you’re unable to chat with potential leads today. We are deeply sorry about that.”

If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own.
Henry Ford, Founder, Ford Motor Company

8. Ensure all channels of communication are managed

With easy access to email and social media from our smartphones, it is not hard to imagine a frantic customer looking for an outage update from multiple channels. In fact, research shows that 50% of customers admit to using 3-5 different channels to reach out to a company.

The key to avoiding confusion is to establish a single source of truth like your status page and linking to that from other profiles. If you choose to communicate status updates on more than one channel, then be sure that your team needs to take steps to ensure that the information is consistent.

50% of customers admit to using 3-5 different channels to reach out to a company.

9. Evaluate the need for compensation

If the severity level of the outage is high or caused financial loss to your customers, it can impact the credibility of your company and lead to customer churn. You may need to check the need and feasibility of providing some sort of compensation to the affected customers. Compensations may cost your company financially, but when you compare it to the cost of losing an existing customer, it’ll help you make the right decision.

You can look for the opportunity to minimize the financial cost of compensation by trying alternate methods which do not require monetary compensation. For example, if you’re a SaaS company providing a monthly subscription-based service, you may offer a service extension for X number of days.

If you’re running a loyalty program, you may also compensate your customers through reward points to boost their loyalty. Customers feel happy that they got something in exchange for their troubles. And your company receives more business from the customers when they use their points later. All in all, it creates a win-win situation for both - you and the customers.

10. Take responsibility

Whether it was your internal team’s mistake or an external service provider that caused the outage, you should come forward to take full responsibility for the incident. Also, let your customers know that you truly care about them and are dedicated to making their experience better despite any limitations or challenges.

Even if the issue has been caused by a third-party company, at the end of the day, they are “your customers”. They chose to trust your brand and bought the service from you. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to provide them with a resolution. That said, you can definitely specify that the issue is at the provider’s end for better clarity, but then, let them know that you are committed to bringing everything back on track.

We think our job is to take responsibility for the complete user experience. And if it’s not up to par, it’s our fault, plain and simple.
Steve Jobs, Co-Founder, Apple Computer & Pixar

11. Reassure your customers of the way forward

Sharing a summary of the incident analysis and preventive actions will showcase that your company is serious about the incident and tirelessly working toward all areas of improvement. It also gives a sense of authenticity to your customers by providing them with transparency.

This report can include the following details about the outage event:

The root cause: Why the outage incident happened

Impacts: What were all the impacts caused due to the outage

Corrective actions: What was done from your end to restore the service or to make things right

Preventive actions: What steps will be taken by your company to avoid such an incident or minimize its impacts in the future

12. Collect feedback from customers

For any customer-driven company, collecting feedback should be an ongoing process to evaluate customer satisfaction and bring in continuous improvements. Research conducted by Kolsky has found that 70% of companies that are known to deliver a best-in-class customer experience use customer feedback.

70% of companies delivering best-in-class customer experience use customer feedback.

Asking your customers for feedback becomes even more important after an event that is directly related to the customer experience. In the post-outage survey, you may ask questions like:

  • How would you describe the level of impact caused by the recent outage?
    A. No impact at all
    B. Nominal
    C. Moderate
    D. Significant
  • What do you think we could’ve done better during the outage?
  • How likely are you to recommend <your company name> to your friends or colleagues?

This will help you to get some great insights about the actual impact of the outage on your customers, areas of improvement, and you can make your next strategic move accordingly to keep their business.

Outage Communication Template

To help you prepare your outage communication message, we have created this template covering the above tips:

Some customers are experiencing [specify the issue] with our [name of application/website/feature] since [Time with Zone & Date]. The issue has been caused due to [reason if available].

Please know that our team is aware of the issue and is working urgently to resolve the problem. You can follow status updates here: [Status page link]

In the meantime, you can use [alternative or workaround] to [get around the problem].

We know how much you rely on our services and are committed to bringing you a seamless experience. We are truly sorry for the disruption in our services.

Feel free to reach out for any queries or concerns.

Thank you for your patience and support - as always.

[your signature]

Outage Communication Sample

Using the above outage communication template, we’ve created a sample message:

Some customers are experiencing latency issues with our mobile application since 09:00 AM EST - September 01, 2022. The problem is happening due to a technical glitch in the backend infrastructure.

Please know that our team is aware of the issue and is working urgently to resolve the problem. You can follow status updates here: Enchant Status

In the meantime, you can use our website www.enchant.com to access all of the products and resources through any device.

We know how much you rely on our services and are committed to bringing you a seamless experience. We are truly sorry for the disruption in our services.

Feel free to reach out for any queries or concerns.

Thank you for your patience and support - as always.

How Often To Communicate During an Outage

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution or answer to this question as it depends on a case-to-case basis. But here are a few tips to help you decide when to share updates.

Ideally, you should share timely and useful updates as you receive them. In other words, you should avoid continuously posting the exact same update every 30 minutes just for the sake of posting it.

Also, if too many hours have gone by and there’s no progressive update, share a message letting customers know your team is still working on it. This will also give assurance to customers that you are watchful about the situation.

Takeaways

Customers understand that things can go wrong. They don’t expect things to be perfect all the time. But they do expect honest communication about the situation and will forgive you if you show sincere efforts to solve the problem.

The most empathetic companies see a more than double increase in value as compared to the least empathetic ones.

With proper management and the right messaging, you can leave a positive impression on your customers even when things are not in your favor. And when you manage complex situations with integrity, competence and mutual understanding, you’ll win the hearts of your customers.

Whether it’s business or life, the most important thing when you encounter any sort of failure is what you learn from it and how well you bounce back and come out of it.